- Italian Grand Prix - The Final Stint
A round-up of the good, the bad and the downright ugly from the 2012 Italian Grand Prix
- Italian Grand Prix
Should he stay or should he go?
Lewis Hamilton started the weekend in the headlines and finished the weekend in the headlines. He'll be slightly happier about the stories on Sunday night than he was about the stories on Thursday night, but for the media he was the focus of attention throughout. There were several uneasy press briefings as he gave one-word answers - usually "no" - to questions about whether he would be driving for Mercedes in 2013. Midway through the weekend the press pack were convinced he was heading for Mercedes - with a contract apparently ready to be signed - but by the end of the weekend the situation was less clear. McLaren stressed that talks were ongoing with the Italian Grand Prix race winner, but team boss Martin Whitmarsh also made clear that he only wants a fully-committed driver at his team. Hamilton's victory suggests that isn't a problem on the track, but his demeanour in the paddock hinted otherwise. With McLaren winning and Mercedes struggling to sixth and seventh there are still questions being asked as to what Hamilton would gain by jumping ship, but talk of more freedom with personal sponsors and a £60 million contract over three years (according to the Daily Mail) may hold the answer. The prospect of being at a works engine team for the switch to V6 turbos will also hold some interest, but it would take a brave man to bet against McLaren. Whatever the truth behind the headlines, the weekend should give McLaren the hurry-up if they do want to keep Hamilton as losing him would leave a serious hole in its armoury. After all, with Jenson Button's title chances next to nil, McLaren need Hamilton fully committed this year if they are realistically going to take the fight to Ferrari and Fernando Alonso.
Red Bull saw its lead in the constructors' championship slashed by 25 points to 29 as it failed to score for the first time since Korea 2010. The culprit for Sebastian Vettel's retirement was again a faulty alternator on his Renault engine and team boss Christian Horner was far from happy about it. Asked if it was the same problem as Vettel's car suffered in Valencia, Horner said: "I haven't seen the component itself, but the similarity is that it's caused another DNF. So two race-stopping failures cost us a certain victory [in Valencia] and today a sensible amount of points. It's extremely costly and something that needs to be rectified for the remaining seven races. I think there was another issue on another car with the same component during the weekend. It's very disappointing but we need to work with Renault to try and understand and make sure it doesn't happen again." Red Bull don't like losing and with their performances in qualifying at the last two races that is looking increasingly possible.
A ticking time bomb
Talk to teams, the FIA and the commercial rights holder and all are adamant that costs should be slashed over the coming years to make F1 sustainable, yet getting them to agree is proving tricky. A rather large elephant in the room is the lack of a Concorde Agreement after this season, although Mercedes is now saying it is close to signing up. On Friday the key players met at Maranello and Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo insisted they had made some progress. But with the rather expensive introduction of a new engine formula on the horizon in 2014, the teams really need to piece together a coherent plan to make sure the sport remains affordable. FIA president Jean Todt says some of the smaller teams are at risk over the coming years unless costs are slashed by 30%, but he was less vocal about how that should happen and whether costs should come under the jurisdiction of the FIA. The time bomb is ticking.
The Story of the Weekend
- Shock Sergio Perez - The paddock couldn't quite get its head around Sauber's pace on Sunday. Granted he was on a different strategy - starting on hards instead of mediums - but his pace surpassed expectations. Even Sauber struggled to explain it, which is all good news for Perez's future
- Shocker Renault's alternators - Sebastian Vettel has had two retirements this year and both have been down to alternator failures. He had two in Monza (one in practice and one in the race), which is not really good enough for any component on an F1 car
- Best overtake Sergio Perez - His pass on Kimi Raikkonen around the outside of the Roggia chicane was ballsy and well judged. Raikkonen never leaves more than a car width, but Perez used the space to his advantage
- Best lap Sergio Perez - Although he didn't actually gain a position on it, Perez clocked a 1:27.562 on his final lap, which was almost a second quicker than anybody else on a one-stop strategy managed. It also showed that he still had plenty left to offer at the end of the race as he tracked down Hamilton
- Worst lap Mark Webber - With his tyres shot he finally lost control on lap 51 on the exit of Ascari. The flat-spots were so bad he retired on the next lap
- Drive of the day (You guessed it) Sergio Perez - To go from 12th on the grid to second in the race was quite remarkable and the fact that he was able to pick his way through the field (passing two Ferraris at the end) made it all the more impressive
When Alonso rapidly closed in on Vettel in Curva Grande, he jinked left to get the inside line for the Roggia Chicane. In an almost carbon copy of last year (though with roles reversed) one of them had to take to the grass, but where this was different was that it was the whole of Alonso's Ferrari that needed to leave the circuit and he did well to collect the car and continue. Vettel may have been caught unaware by the closing speed, but he didn't leave a car's width and with the wheels interlocked there could have been a huge accident. After Grosjean's punishment it was no surprise to see Vettel handed a drive-through penalty, and it just showed that the FIA is serious about enforcing strict punishments for driving misdemeanours.
The title picture
What a difference a week makes. In fact, what a difference 21 laps make. On lap 32, Alonso had just passed Vettel but had Hamilton and Button ahead and Raikkonen and Webber not too far behind. Fast forward half an hour and the championship leader has extended his advantage to 37 points and Hamilton is the only person to be in a better points position than he was at the start of the race. It's not surprising Alonso called it the "perfect Sunday", and realistically there are only five drivers with title ambitions now. At 78 points back Button is as good as out of it, and Webber's hopes took a large blow as he dropped 47 points behind. The chasing pack all need Alonso to fail to score in at least one of the remaining seven races, and even then only one of them can win. It's McLaren on the charge, however, with three wins in a row, but with no back-to-back winners so far this season Alonso will sleep well tonight.
A lot has been made of the lack of a victory for Lotus so far this season, but Sauber is announcing itself as as good a candidate for the top step on the podium. While Lotus has failed to capitalise on its best chances, Sauber appears to be able to turn a half chance in to a really strong result once a race starts to develop. Granted, things didn't work out in Spa and Perez should have won in Malaysia, but Perez continues to improve and his drive at Monza was nothing short of outstanding. The strategy was spot on, the car performed well despite never looking that strong all weekend and Perez executed every pass perfectly. It shouldn't be overlooked that starting 12th allowed him to gamble with his tyre choice, but on a track that suits the C31 Sauber has the car - and the driver - to win.